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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Opinion

STAFF ED: New parking pass prices show lack of concern from UH


Prices for parking passes have always increased, but this year there is an extra charge for living on campus. Commuter Garage Annual passes increased roughly 20 percent; Commuter Zone Annual by 9 percent. | Fiona Legesse/The Cougar

The recently released parking permit options for the 2019-2020 academic year feature a significant increase in the cost of garage and zone parking for students. Every year we all go through the song and dance of complaining about parking prices until we ultimately all give in and purchase a pass. 

Parking passes are very necessary to attend class (don’t talk about the free parking around campus; that doesn’t exist). And we all need one, but UH Parking has a literal monopoly over parking passes, and students often feel like their voices aren’t heard in decisions about permit costs.

We understand, parking is a very difficult issue to tackle and it clearly is not the easiest nor the most affirming job in the world. But the needs of the students need to be reflected in what Parking and Transportation Services is doing. Right now, there are still a lot of big issues that PTS needs to address.

Low-income students

Raising parking prices doesn’t just hurt a student’s wallet, it can also hurt their chances of finishing their degree. The increased cost could serve as a barrier to low-income students, who may not be able to afford an extra several hundred dollars tacked onto the cost of tuition, residential living, textbooks and other overpriced necessities.

Some students can’t attend the University if they cannot afford to park here. Scholarship money and grants may not cover all of a student’s expenses, leaving them to pay the remainder out of pocket. The increase in the cost of parking is an exclusionary practice that bars lower-income students from receiving a high-quality, affordable education.

Purchasing a parking pass so that a student may have a chance to get to class and taking a class is a choice a student should never have to make. Classes are roughly $900, depending on which college the class is in. Next year, a garage parking pass is $670; a surface lot parking pass is $405 — and that’s just for commuter students. On-campus residents will be paying even more for surface and garage permits.

Now, we don’t have to be math or economics majors to see that a parking pass is a good chunk of a class.

And, yes, you could retort “buy an Remote Parking permit.” But is that really the answer you want to give a student who is already working all day, every day to get through college?

The wheels on the bus rarely go

In addition to being deficient in safety measures, the remote parking and event parking options are chronically unreliable.

Although it is a fraction of the price of garage and zone parking, remote parking at ERP comes at a higher cost. The shuttle responsible for transporting students from ERP to the University’s main campus is habitually behind schedule, causing students to be late to their classes. This can be devastating for students enrolled in courses that take a grade for attendance.

In forcing students to park further away due to a lack of available, affordable parking on campus, the University is obligated to make sure that students can park remotely and still get to their classes in a timely manner. Despite only experiencing a minor price increase, a lower cost in comparison with other options does not mean students should have to compromise on reliability.

Garages

Why do we need so many garages? At what point will UH’s campus become mostly garages where students break their altimeter trying to find a spot. Next year, Garage 5 will open, and it will be $670, just like every other garage.

We understand that garages create more spots; each garage adds roughly 1,700 spots (the number of spots it creates minus the number of spots it takes away), said Neil Hart, Executive Director of UH Auxilary Services. And that’s great — we need more spots. But not if the prices are going to continue to soar.

It seems counter-intuitive to create more parking spaces, but charge more for those parking spaces. How many more years will we be building garages and continue to upcharge those same garages? We need to have a serious discussion on whether these garages are worth the continuous upcharge.

On-campus price explanation

Every year when the prices are released for the next year’s parking pass rates, students are generally somewhat upset. We’re all aware that prices will increase in the coming year. There are a few constants in life: death, taxes and parking rates increasing exponentially until the seas rise and consume UH.

Usually, there’s never anything drastic enough to warrant some kind of explanation. This year, when students opened the email with the updated parking prices, they were greeted with the fun caveat of ‘resident’ prices, which cost between $240 and $405 more than last year’s rates. For students living on campus next year, this was an unwelcome surprise.

This is a moment when Parking and Transportation needs to explain its decisions to students, especially students living on campus who will be affected by the increased resident prices. The email, however, provided no explanation for the price hikes and what necessitates them to happen.

Why are students being punished for living on campus? Sure, Parking and Transporation is clearly not “punishing” students for choosing to live on campus, but you can’t blame on-campus residents for feeling that way.

And the response to UH resident concerns: Take the new Cougar Shuttle. And you wonder why students don’t think you care about them. This answer completely disregards the residents and all the circumstances that go into living on campus.

Twitter fiasco

In a few years, there will be a public relations class on this campus that will study how Parking and Transportation’s Twitter account handled the rollout of the new parking pass prices. Here’s a hint to everyone involved in PR: Don’t, under any circumstance, actively insult and demean those who have a genuine question about a choice your organization has made.

Of all events that have occurred since the beginning of what we’re deeming #ParkingGate (because we’re uncreative hacks), this may be the most egregious example of Parking and Transportation just not getting it.

We should not have to explain why replying to students who are annoyed with gifs of Tony Stark rolling his eyes or a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air gif is a wholly poor decision. And it comes across as fully insulting. Why is that the way you decide to react to students? How in any way is this constructive? Sure, you can do the “blame the intern” schtick, but shouldn’t there be some planned campaign? Because there’s no way this was planned.

Then going after students who asked questions by trying to parent them? We’re talking about the official Parking Twitter telling people not to go out at night if they’re worried about parking availability — because they should be studying anyway, right?

 It is impossible to comprehend the sheer level of stupidity that came with this response. When students tell you they don’t feel heard or that Parking and Transportation is actively antagonistic — I think you see why.

We’re speaking to you

Usually, Staff Editorials are supposed to end with a call to action for the students reading the paper, but in this situation, it seems mildly inappropriate to ask for UH students to do more. They have done enough. This call to action is directly speaking to Parking and Transportation and Auxiliary Services.

You are a monopoly. Unlike every other situation, we, the students of UH, have no purchasing power. We are at your mercy. Understand that we are students who are doing nothing more than trying to graduate.

We’re not complaining because we’re annoyed we have to spend money. We’re annoyed because every year, it seems like Parking and Transportation Services does not care about the students.

From increased parking prices that seem unnecessary to the Parking and Transportation vehicle roaming around to dish out expensive tickets without mercy, to the annoying Twitter responses, it’s impossible to feel like our complaints are heard.

This is not a generation of “snowflakes” begging for every one of our needs to be met. This is a diverse group of students tired of being at the mercy of a faceless — or so it appears to the students— organization. It’s not The Cougar’s job to be a mouthpiece for Parking and Transportation and explain to students why exactly these changes are being made, while you hide behind passive aggressive tweets. It’s your jobs. You are the adults. You are being paid for this.

Or maybe we’ll just find UH’s version of Teddy Roosevelt to do it. But until we do, do better Parking and Transportation. 

Maybe we’ll just all buy motorcycles.

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